Going off of the comments I got on last month’s post, let’s talk about writing for the LDS market and whether or not an agent would be beneficial. I think the best way to approach this topic is to list off the agent related comments I hear every now and then in LDS publishing and deal with them one by one. Then we’ll discuss whether or not my answers mean you want an agent. So, here we go – feel free to add more in the comments:
Agents are pointless and take your money without providing anything in return.
FALSE. A good agent can make your career even if you sell fewer copies than authors who are not making a living. A good agent raises your advances by more than the 15% commission said agent charges. A good agent keeps doors open for you so that if things sour with one publisher, you can move on to another. I’m not saying agents are miracle workers because they aren’t. What they are is specialists, and a good specialist will do a better job negotiating contracts than you will (unless you’ve got the skill-set of an agent yourself. In order to get that, you need to be negotiating contracts continuously in your genre.)
A bad agent is a waste of money, but a bad anything is a waste of money. If you guys want, we can talk about vetting agents next month.
Agents merely complicate the process and slow down the publishing schedule.
FALSE. Agents negotiate the contracts, and any publisher should have at least one person who does the same. If they aren’t equipped to discuss terms with their authors, they’re not equipped to work with the kinds of authors who can afford to negotiate their terms, meaning they aren’t equipped to deal with professionals. Any joint venture requires negotiation. If the other party won’t negotiate with you or your representative, then they don’t see the process as a joint venture. They think that they’re doing you a favor, or that you work for them and they can dictate the terms. No contract is better than a contract created under those circumstances.
That publisher does not allow agents and will not deal with them.
Apparently this is TRUE. There are publishers in the LDS market who have this stance. These, in my opinion, are publishers who are not worth your time. They don’t afford you the respect of sitting down to discuss the terms of your arrangement and they demand that things be done their way or not at all.
Now, can such a publisher be a gatekeeper to a market that you wouldn’t access without them? Yes, actually they can. Is it a market you want? Well, it isn’t big enough to support an author with an agent, so unless you are desperate to have a publisher name on your book spine and a few sales to people who didn’t go to high school with you, I would say, don’t bother.
Sales in LDS publishing are too modest to support an agent negotiated deal.
Well, if that’s true, then that says very poor things about LDS publishers. It’s also FALSE. I’ve seen one contract in LDS publishing for a $60,000.00 advance, for a scholarly work written exclusively for an LDS audience. This wasn’t an Obert Skye or Brandon Mull crossover novel. This was a theological work. Now, there may not be room for many books in this niche to command those fees, but suffice it to say, the LDS market does have the potential to move a substantial number of copies.
Besides that, there many examples of LDS authors who crossed over, including the aforementioned Obert Skye and Brandon Mull. Jason Wright also springs to mind, and I’m sure there are others. It may be rare or unusual, but this is also the case outside of LDS publishing. Writing is just a hard way to make a living.
Bear in mind that people who say LDS publishing doesn’t have the potential to make you any money might actually be saying that they think *you* don’t have the potential to make any money. It may have nothing to do with the market you’re in at all, and if you want to be a writer, you just have to get used to hearing people say stuff like that.
No agent would be interested in working with an LDS publisher.
Mostly TRUE, but technically FALSE. LDS publishers are in a niche market and agents usually work in the national market. LDS people are a distinct minority, so in general, LDS themed books have limited marketability. However, there are always exceptions, and to be blunt, the big publishing successes are pretty much all exceptions. What might be a straight up LDS allegory to us might also be wickedly entertaining to an audience who knows nothing about us. Memory of Earth by Orson Scott Card is, at its core, a retelling of The Book of Mormon. It sold to a national publisher with an agent negotiated contract. For that matter Scott’s books for Shadow Mountain, an imprint of Deseret Book, which were about the women of Genesis had the paperback rights sell to a national publisher.
In other words, just as there’s no one recipe for success, there’s no one recipe for failure either. It’s unlikely that an agent will see your publishing offer from Zarahemla Books (no slight meant to the company, I’m just using a *really* Mormon name there) and want to negotiate it for you, but stranger things have happened and in the arts, you’re going to rely on strange things way more often than any sane person would ever dare. LDS authors with small press contracts have been on Oprah and The Today Show. It does happen.
Agents these days are turning eeeeviiiil!
This one’s in direct response to Jonathan’s question about this blog post by The Passive Voice. In it The Passive Guy quotes another blog post by Kristine Kathryn Rusch in which she details all the dirty underhanded things publishers have done to her and how agents are not working for authors anymore but rather for their agencies.
So, okay, here’s the scoop: 1) The publishing industry is always in flux. Power ebbs and flows and reroutes its course all the time.
2) Ever since the recession of the 80′s, midlist authors have suffered. First of all the regional distributors all merged together into a few mega-ones. Being a regional bestseller isn’t really a thing anymore, when it used to be a viable way to make a living without being Stephen King. More lately, those of you who haven’t been in a coma for the last decade will know that bookstores have taken a huge hit, leaving us with one national bookstore chain, B&N, who engages in ever so fun business practices like getting into fights with publishers as big and powerful as S&S and consequently refusing to distribute their books. Gone are all the small corner bookstores and grocery racks where a little known author could nevertheless move some decent volume. Print publishing has become a sweepstakes. You either hit it big or not at all (at least, in comparison to how things were thirty years ago). Kristine Kathryn Rusch was and is a midlister – and that is not an insult. I know some people use the term that way, but it’s a misuse. A midlister makes a living without being mega-famous. We should all be so lucky as to end up midlisters. Midlisters lately are being starved to extinction and their agents have turned to some rather unsavory, cannibalistic practices to try to stay afloat. The ranks of midlist authors have thinned tremendously, and it’s a real shame. Kris is right in the middle of a nasty set of forces, so if that’s where you end up, Kris is as good a guide as any.
3) It is still possible to knock it out of the park. The indie authors I work with have come to me with some pretty darn nice contracts. Some of them have made a *lot* of money. That economy, where you’re Stephen King or JK Rowling, does still exist and both King and Rowling were no one once upon a time. Now, don’t count on this happening, but you know what? Shoot for it anyway. Some people do make it, and have agents who can and do shepherd such a career along.
4) To directly answer your question, Jonathan, the LDS market is not in the same deteriorating condition as the national midlist, so Kris’s comments are not especially applicable.
So do you want an agent?
Your goal in a writing career should be to have a successful writing career and there’s no single doorway into that. A good agent is one possible doorway, so it’s worth researching who the good agents are and subbing to them. Most people I know nowadays are succeeding with their indie sales first and agents come calling, so that’s another door. Look at all the doorways you can find and knock on as many as you can, is my advice.
All right, anything you guys would like me to follow up on next month?